A hunt in the mist
I do not know why I do it. There is no explanation for it. Maybe it is the thrill or the expectation of the unknown, the mystery even. All I do know is that I was wet, cold, physically and mentally exhausted and really glad that it was finally over. This hunt that never should have been was at an end. We were going home.
Yawan and I were doing something stupid again. We are known for that. There is even a word in the dictionary for it. It is spelled dumb?
It started off at OR Thambo international airport, boarding the 9:00 flight departing to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. On arrival, we were met by Dimitri, our host and outfitter for 21 days. We were booked in for the night at the super luxurious Sheraton Hotel. From such a high it can only go downhill in a big hurry.
The next morning found us dodging Donkeys, Trucks, Taxis, People and Cattle in the slump city, on our way to the Rifft Valley three hours by car and a further six hours on horseback away. The smell of diesel fume will always be with me. We arrived at the horses just before lunch and fell out of the truck. This was not fun at all.
The horses were not what I was used to. These were proper racing-donkeys. My feet were about 30cm from the ground after I was in some sort of saddle that was made of wood. There were also about 15 porters that would carry the extra luggage and food that we needed.
We were at 1900meters ASL (above sea level). The climb to 4000m started and it did not look good. The weather was bad. Fog found us after 30 minutes, then rain and heavy wind. You can not breathe at such an altitude. Your every move is an effort.
Six hours of torture later, we came to a few huts made from cow-dung. There were a few sheep around. Welcome to camp Libah. This was getting better by the minute. This is what you go through when you get the brilliant idea of hunting one of Africa"s top trophies. The elusive Mountain Nyala.
They are found only in this unforgiving place in Africa. Staying in the midrange of the mountains, never going close to the top or bottom, these animals present the ultimate challenge to any hunter. I do not care if you can run the Comrades marathon in five hours. Here you will suffer.
It is always better to hunt from the top down as from the bottom up. You can see better that way. The bad part is that we were in the fog belt and the wet, cold wind was terrible. We collapsed to the mud and got our gear sorted in our dung hut.
The next morning we could do nothing but look at each other and read a book. The mist closed up over the whole of the area. Here there are no seasons. It's either sunny or foggy. It stayed like that for a whole week. You know that you are losing it when you spend your time comparing who has the most fungi growth on his clothes. We stayed in that hut for seven days, not having a shower and only exiting when nature calls.
Do you remember that word in the dictionary? Now you know only half of it.
The morning of the eighth day greeted us with clear skies and a long lost sun. We were out on the cliff glassing down till our eyes hurt.
Looking through a 40x Spotting scope gives you a headache of note if you do it for 8 hours straight. We counted 3 bulls and 12 cows.
Only one looked good. We did not move from that one spot the whole day. Mountain Nyala also do not move. They don't have to. There is an abundance of food and water where they live. The average distance covered by a bull is only 50m per day. If you see him in a specific place the one day, you can bet that he will be there the next. You just have to see him. They have hardly any natural predators, including us humans.
Early, the morning on the third day, we spotted him. He was far down and feeding on a slope where not even the Colobus monkeys dared to forage for fear of falling into the abyss.
It took us nearly an hour to plan our approach. We needed to get to within bow-range. We climbed and slid and fell for five hours to get to a spot roughly 80m from him. He was at a 60 degree angle below us. We could get no closer. His horns were non-typical as they did not flair out as is the norm. This sometimes happens. I could not care less. He was legal. Less than 27 inches and you pay double. He was a mature bull and I judged him at +- 30 inches. With a bow in your hand and a safari that costs $XXX all paid in advance with no way to get a refund if you are un-successful, he was good enough for me.
We spent another 30 min just to get some oxygen in our bodies after we got in position. (Please do not wound this animal) was all I could think of when the time came.
(Put your 40 y pin on his spine.) I said to Yawan. This was some serious guesstimating. The bull was facing to the left and the only shot was the one at his spine or close to it. I was hoping that Yawan would get at least one lung. Mountain Nyala do not run. The terrain does not allow it.
Yawan was using his Mathews Legacy at 70lb with a 7595 Gold-tip arrow and a 125gr Thunderhead leading it. At release, the arrow flew and hit the Nyala high on the shoulder, exiting just at the other side of the brisket. At most it was just one lung but that was good enough. The Nyala staggered and fell. He slid down another 60 70 meters and came to a stop because of a small scrub at the base of a cliff that stopped him.
Now what? I looked at him through the spotting scope. There was no movement at all. We did it! I could hardly believe our luck. We hugged each other and the tears rolled down our muddy cheeks only to have us realize with a shock that we were now stuck with serious problem.
How do we get a photo? It took us another gruelling two hours to get to him. By now we were very anti- Nyala. He might still kill us even after he died. We did our best to take some nice photos. He measured out at 32 inches and that was an added bonus.
Afterwards, I started skinning him for a full-mount. That was a job and a half! There is no room to move and it is a big animal, about the size of a two year old Kudu. Darkness fell just as I finished with him.
There is no-way that one can climb that mountain in the dark. We stayed just there for the whole miserable, wet, cold, uncomfortable night with nothing to eat as you can not make a fire with wet wood.
That night the fog came in again. We climbed to the top of the mountain the next morning in very slippery conditions and with quite a few frights. Reaching the top I was past tired. I was exhausted. Yawan felt worse. We stumbled into the shower and ate like Wolves. Afterwards we just collapsed on our cots and died.
Was it worth it?
I still don't know. The lack of breath at that altitude and the cold wet conditions are still too fresh in my memory. Maybe as time goes by I shall say that it was, but for now I shall say NO.
One thing I do know is that if ever I see a photo of a client with a Mountain Nyala and he doesn't look half dead, I shall know that the locals skinned it for a full-mount and took it back up for him and stuffed it full of grass and positioned it in such a way that he could take a photo. That is how 90% of the people do it according to Dimitri.
This was the most difficult hunt we ever did but that is the price you pay if you want to hunt certain species in Africa. This is no place for sissies.
Fritz Rabe Bowhunting & Askari Adventures